Please Don’t Bulldoze the Elves: Environmentalists in Iceland Fight for (Imaginary?) Regional Creatures


Environmentalists are often sloughed off as extremists and freaks. So is it any surprise that Icelandic elves are a reason to thwart a highway expansion project?

Yes, that’s right. Elves.

In Iceland—home of Bjorks and fjords—there are also elves. And advocates for elves. These advocates have partnered with environmentalists in efforts to get the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission to drop plans for a highway project in the Alftanes peninsula because it could disturb a fragile elf habitat. And an elf church. All of which wouldn’t be such a farfetched preservation plan if, you know, elves actually existed.

According to the Huffington Post, Iceland’s Supreme Court will rule on a case brought by a group called Friends of Lava. Until the case is heard, the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission has to halt its highway project. “And it’s not the first time issues about “Huldufolk,” Icelandic for “hidden folk,” have affected planning decisions,” reports the Post. “They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states in part that ‘issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on’.”

However quaint the elf folklore may be—and Scandinavian folklore is full of elves and trolls—the region (Denmark, Norway, Sweden) generally doesn’t take elves seriously. Unless you’re in Iceland, where a University of Iceland study found 62 percent of those surveyed believed it was “at least possible that elves exist,” reports the Post.

Friends of Lava supporters and environmentalists are mostly concerned about the environmental impact the Alftanes project would have on the area’s lava field.  So perhaps the elves are just a way to tell the story.  Or maybe it’s even a bit more. According to Terry Gunnell, a folklore professor at the University of Iceland, who told the Post, “In short, everyone is aware that the land is alive,” he said. “And one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect.” Sometimes a good story makes all the difference. Especially if it’s about elves.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Related on EcoSalon

I’d Rather Be in … Reykjavik

Redefining Urban Gardens: Greening Roofs with Sod

Environmental Artist Fuchsia Lin’s Crystals of Transformation

Image: stuck in customs

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.